PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — The Giant Slalom races began bright and early at the Jeongseon Alpine Center in PyeongChang. The Giant Slalom course today was set by Ralf Jegler, the couch of the Swiss National team. The Jeongseon slopes have a drop of 382 metres. This Vertical drop determines the number of gates. Giant Slalom is a technical discipline where the number of gates is 11 – 15 % of the Vertical drop.
The races started with the Women’s Visually Impaired category. Run one looked tricky. The sun was out and creating havoc on the course. The day began with the Women’s Visually Impaired Category. After Run one the American athletes Staci Manella and Danelle Umstead finished in 10th and 8th position. In the Women’s standing category Ally Kunkel and Stephanie Jallen had a similar standing after their first run. Kunkel came in 8th and Jallen finished 10th. For Laurie Stephens, the top decorated Paralympian from Team USA the course proved equally challenging and she ended in 8th position.
The men’s competitions started right after on the same course. In the Visually Impaired category, unfortunately for American hopeful Kevin Burton, he disqualified. In the Standing category, Thomas Walsh was riding high in 9th position and Jamie Stanton not far behind in 10th after the first run. Tyler Carter came in at 27th, Connor Hogan in 31st position and Spencer Wood in the 33rd spot.
In the Men’s sitting category, Tyler Walker reigned supreme in first spot giving him an advantage for the second run ahead. In 2014 Walker had crashed horribly in Sochi and had a hard road to recovery. His first run in PyeongChang was a fantastic turn of the page for him. His teammate, and the favorite Andrew Kurka had not finished his first run. Tyler Walker was looking for redemption from Sochi.
In Alpine skiing, Giant Slalom tests the best athletes on both agility and speed. The second run is not on the same course as the first and final medalists are based on the combined score of both runs. After both runs the Women’s Visually Impaired category had the same result for the American ladies. Danelle Umstead came in 8th and Staci Manella came in 10th. It was Slovakia’s Henrieta Farkasova who dominated and won her 4th Gold medal of the games here in PyeongChang. Ally Kunkel finished 8th and Stephanie Jallen came in 10th after the second run in the Women’s standing category. Laurie Stephens had to settle for 7th in the end. In the final run of Men’s Giant Slalom Thomas Walsh came in 7th and Jamie Stanton came in 14th. The course stumped a lot of athletes today with Josh Elliot, Jasmin Bambur, Andrew Kurka and Lawler Stephen among others in the men’s sitting category not completing the second run. After so many athletes had skied down the same course the skiers at the end had a rough time. It had been warm all day and the course was showing wear and tear.
After run one Tyler Walker was sitting strong in first position: “The hardest part was being in the start before the second run. I thought I had control over my mind and then it got crazy. And then about 5 gates into the course I thought to myself – Oh yes I can do this!”, Tyler Walker said after finishing. Tyler took home silver after the second run. After he medaled, he said, “I feel amazing. Its starting to sink in a little bit. It took a lot of work to get here today. I’m so happy it worked out this time!” Ever so humble, he gives credit to the people around him, “My teammates and coaches are super awesome and we are one big family. The whole environment just kept pulling me back. Experiencing this life is pretty awesome and it’s what gives me strength.” This silver medal marked Tyler Walker’s first medal in a long career that spans fifteen seasons.